NEW YORK —
Since our inception, TWICE has tracked the shifting sands of CE retailing through what has become our annual Top 100 Retailers Reports.
Over the years, these regular snapshots of the CE selling scene have provided not only a better understanding of the business, but also insights into America’s shopping habits.
For this special 25th anniversary edition, we cracked open the TWICE archives and compiled lists of the 10 top retailers in four- and five-year increments spanning our history. While refinements in our methodology and adjustments to the baseline sales volumes over the past two and a half decades render apples-to-apples comparisons inexact, the six accompanying charts do provide an historical record of CE sell-through patterns, and a fascinating look at the way people shopped.
Speaking of which, the very first retail registry,
published in 1988, was co-produced with People
Magazine, of all partners. The rankings included
video software specialty stores, but only went up to
No. 89 (a berth held by Blockbuster Entertainment),
as inclusion required a minimum of $45 million in
annual CE sales and $40 million in videotape sales
As with each of the Top 10 charts, what’s most interesting is the mix of distribution channels. The 1987 ranking reflects perhaps the most balanced blend of store types, and in that sense also represents the end of an era. Dominating the list with four of the 10 slots are CE specialty chains, led by perennial Top 10 retailer RadioShack. Its 7,000 some-odd locations, nearly twice today’s store count, kept it at No. 1 for years before it was unseated by fourth-place Circuit City, while the legendary Silo and Highland Superstores chains were neck-and-neck at Nos. 7 and 8.
Also dominating the 1987 rankings were catalog showrooms Service Merchandise and Best Products. For those too young (or old) to remember this retail-format relic, customers would select their jewelry, housewares, sporting goods or CE from a catalog or in-store display, complete an order form, and wait for their items to arrive at a checkout counter from the backroom warehouse via conveyor belt. Service Merchandise, once the nation’s largest catalog showroom with $4 billion in sales, closed in 1992 and continues in name only as an e-commerce site.
Also represented in 1987 were mass-merchant department stores Sears and Montgomery Ward, and discount chains Kmart and Wal-Mart. Ward’s highlighted CE that year with the debut of its Electric Ave. specialty stores, while Wal-Mart, which was still hyphenated, had half as many locations and onefourth the CE sales of then discount king Kmart.
By 1991, No. 3 discounter Target entered the CE sales fray, as did Wal-Mart’s wholesale club division Sam’s.
Within five years, the closures of Highland (liquidated in 1993) and Silo (shut by corporate parent Fretter’s in 1995) cleared the way for Best Buy and Circuit City to take the top two positions, which they would hold until the latter’s decline in mid-2000s. Interestingly, the writing was already on the wall in 1996, as Best Buy’s greater productivity generated an average of $25 million in sales per store, compared with Circuit’s $12 million.
Also that year, the pervasiveness of the personal computer led to Top 10 status for CompUSA (No. 3), Office Depot (No. 7) and Tandy-owned Computer City (No. 10), which was later purchased and absorbed by CompUSA.
By 2001 Staples had leapfrogged Office Depot onto the Top 10, creating a lineup that would remain locked in place through 2006.
Since then, the seismic changes wrought by ecommerce, the ascension of Apple, the recession and retail consolidation led to a radically different playing field on TWICE’s most recent tally. The 2010 registry, released in May, charted
’s entrance into the Top 5 where it trails only Apple, Walmart and Best Buy, while Target, Costco, GameStop, Dell, Sam’s Club and former top dog RadioShack now round out the rankings.